Words on Words: reading in between the notes


art by Alice Yu

Alice Yu

A famous Austrian composer, Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — more commonly known as just Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg and died December 5, 1791 in Vienna. Born during an era when the Baroque period began to transition to the Classical, Mozart rose to fame with his mastery of almost every musical genre. Classified as a musical genius, Mozart not only excelled at composing (his first composition was composed at age 5) but was also skilled in performing the piano, clarinet and violin.
Ever since birth, my parents made sure music was an crucial part of my life. By the time I could crawl, my mother was already bringing me to my sisters’ piano lessons. Bedtime was signaled by the Suzuki Violin School, Volume 1 CD. At the age of three, my mother began teaching me to play out of extremely basic piano lesson books with songs that had a maximum of 15 notes and played on a variation of just five piano keys. I was enrolled in lessons with my first and only piano instructor, Mabel Kinder, at the age of five.
I learned early on that the rests in between notes were important. I mean, how could I not when Ms. Kinder stopped me every time I missed a rest? Depending on how many times I missed it, she would circle it with a pencil or a red mark, making it impossible to skim over it when practicing. With the metronome as a steady drummer and subdivisions of the beat burned into my mind, respecting the rests simply became a way of living.
But this lesson transcended through the limits of music and into my daily life. As I entered high school and understood more about relationships — both between me and my peers as well as the natural world — I truly experienced the beauty and pain of silence.
Know the power of silence
Sometimes silence is sacred and special. Sometimes it’s a warning. Even if you’re lacking in the department for reading in between the lines, please, at the very least be able to judge a situation based on people’s reactions and mannerisms. If someone who’s normally upbeat and happy stares at you silently with a discontented expression, it’s not time to joke around and poke fun. If someone who’s normally overcast and negative stares at you silently with an expressionless face, it’d be safe to say they’re also not in the mood for jokes.
There have been times when I’ve misjudged silence and ended up making a situation worse. One time, someone even walked out of the room after I continued to talk through their silent treatment. At the time, I thought they were just being their normal, unwelcoming self and didn’t even view it as the silent treatment until they vacated the room.
Just like you experience silence from others, you also have the ability to use silence. It’s just up to you whether you use it to build connections or break them. Be courteous to others by making it clear which type of silence you’re using — the formative type or the judgemental type.
Appreciate the sounds of life
The book, “Silent Spring”, most clearly illustrates this point. This environmental science book by Rachel Carson illustrated how desolate spring would look, and sound, if humans continue to pollute the world with unnatural chemicals. In the circle of life, plants aren’t the only ones affected. Those who rely on those plants to survive, such as bugs and birds, are also negatively affected.
The fact that there’s a plethora of sounds that occur in the natural world is undisputable. Whether you like those sounds are not is a subjective matter. But in order for these sounds to exists, humans need to understand how to co-exist. It is our moral duty to treat the world with kindness and care, instead of polluting the world. Appreciated the rustle of leaves and the chirps of birds while they’re here, lest we silence these sources of nature’s calls.
Just like everything else in life, too little of something isn’t good, but too much of something isn’t that much better either. Silence is no exception. Use it moderately — not so often that no one knows your thoughts and not so sparse that people groan the moment you open your mouth. Also realize there’s always a reason behind silence; whether or not we can explain it is another matter.
art by Alice Yu